I admit it. Click-bait titles often suck me in. You know the kind: "The One Thing You Need to Know About Brussels Sprouts (And it's Not What You Think)". Oh my God! There's something I don't know about Brussels Sprouts?!? What could it be? If I don't read this article, I may never know!
So, naturally, I had to read the Inc. magazine article, "There's One Question You Must Ask Before Solving Any Problem (It's Also the Most Underrated Management Skill)," As it turned out, the "one question" truly is the thing you must ask before solving any problem, and it truly is among the most under-rated management skills, particularly in the area of managing innovation.
SPOILER ALERT - the one question is "what is the problem?" and the management skill is effectively defining the problem.
Although Einstein never really said the quote about "if I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and five minutes solving it," his breakthroughs came from rethinking the problems of physics rather than focusing on tweaking variations on existing solutions.
Problem definition is like Leonardo Da Vinci, a beautiful blend of art and science. It takes imagination, openness to alternatives, and, perhaps most importantly, patience. The patience required to wait on solution-focus until the problem is well understood and defined. Spend more time on defining your problems, and the problems of your customers, and your solutions will be dramatically better.